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The Casual Life by Wintyre Fraust

An older, casual player's perspective on MMOG's in general and GW2 in particular.

Author: Meleagar

No Levels, No Classes: How Do You Know What To Fight?

Posted by Meleagar Thursday January 28 2010 at 9:51AM
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In this blog I'm advocating an MMORPG where all players advance 24/7, and can invest their progress in any area of advancement they wish, even "working at a job" to make money based on other  skils they might have. When they create an avatar to start the game, they get to distribute their initial character stats as they wish.  When advancing, one can set their advancement to accrue in any area they wish.

Since this generates a population without any categorizable features even at the most basic level, obviously one cannot generate an automatic "con" system, where a player can immediately see if they have a good chance of defeating a mob or not.  However, since there is no death penalty in the game, there is no reason to not simply try. 

One must remember that in this true sandbox game, there are more means of "defeating" mobs than just killing them.  One can become an advanced animal trainer and tame many mobs (or at least pacify them in order to get by them); one can also become an expert diplomat, learn the language of the mob, and negotiate for whatever they want; one can seduce or confuse the mob, or become an expert at camoflage and disguise to fool the mob.

However, in just fighting a mob, one can invest some advancement time in learning about that particular mob and get a detailed spec sheet about range of hit points, offensive capability, defensive, special attributes, drops, aggro, race affiliations, habits, treaties, known affililates and opportunities, language, range, food, etc.  Having such information will allow the player to tailor specific training strategies that will advance particular traits, abilities, talents, and skills in order to be able to defeat that particular mob in combat.

In this way, if a particular crafting skill you have requires, say, the fur off of a snow leopard, you could set your avatar to work to earn money to buy the furs you require from other players, or you could go in and tame a leopard, bring it to town and let your stronger friends kill it for you so you can then get the fur; you could tame a creature that can kill a snow leopard, take it with you and get your furs that way; you could do some work for a neighboriing tribe and take the trade in furs; or, you could examine detailed information about the snow leopards and train yourself up in the appropriate commodities so that you can defeat it in combat yourself and then skin it (and perhaps process it for other valuable resources).

So no, you will not be able to immediately "con" a mob and know if you can defeat it, but you can spend a short time learning about the mob and from that info figure out how you can either defeat it or get what you want from it.

Deliberately Unbalanced = More Interesting

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday January 26 2010 at 3:27PM
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When MMOG developers attempt to create a "balanced" game, this means that they are trying to create a finite set of class/ability combinations that are - essentially - equal.  Basically, it means that at a certain stage, Class 1 can avoid X damage; class 2 can block X damage; class 3 can heal X damage; and class 4 has armor that prevents X damage. 

The problem is, this balance formula, one way or another, makes all the classes, especially from game to game, the same.  This is why there is nothing new under the sun in MMOGs, and why sci-fi or gothic MMOGs have the same fundamental feel as any other.  They are all designed with grouping and end-game raiding in mind, meaning that each class must be designed to fill a role and balanced to be the relative equal of any other character within a range of levels.

Of course, you have to balance if you're going to include PvP or coerced grouping; balance is broken in such games when it is discovered that a particular class/ability combination results in a character that is significantly more powerful than (1) other characters at its level, or (2) in group or raid situations.  In a raid, all characters must be able to contribute X value, or else one is gimped and the other is over-powered.

But, what if the developer threw out the whole concept of "balanced" groups and forumlaic end-game raiding?  What if PvP had no guarantees that your character would be the relative equal of others with similar time in the game? What if there were not one or two ways to create an over-powered or gimped character, but virtually infinite ways?  What if one of the accepted principles of the game was that you could create a character overpowered in some ways and gimped in others, instead of a development team that slow-fed you a sugar-coated diet of forced balance and end-game relevance?

From the perspective of what this blog is about (a 24/7 progression game whether online or not), a player could make themselves, say, a fire tank by putting virtually all of their advancement time into fire resistance, generating aggro, and health. Such a character might be able to handle fire-based enemies well beyond the capacity of others of equal time investment.   Imagine a much higher-level (meaning: more time invested, since this blog is advocating a game without levels) fire mage attacking a much lower-level player who has their time invested thusly; the lower character might be impossible for that particular higher-level character to kill. 

But then, an ice-mage would make short work of that same character.

Imagine a game where you can pursue highly specified characteristics indefinitely. The ultimate fire-demon conjurer. The ultimate two-handed mace expert. The ultimate healer of humans.  The ultimate healer of mixed groups.  The ultimate chain-lightning caster.  Near-infinite specificity of ability and no limitatation to how good one can get at it.  It might be that you have virtually no health, no defense, no crafting capacity or any other game skills whatsoever, but if a group can smuggle you into the enemy camp alive and get you to just cast one ultimate chain-lightning spell, then even if you get killed immediatly afterward they have a chance of winning because you've decimated the opposing army.

That's real variety, and endless potential for highly individual characters.  If it is in a system that has 24/7 advancement for all your characters, then even if you find one of your characters gimped from doing something you wish to do, all you have to do is set them on a development course to fix the problem.

Googling "Offline Progression" For A Chuckle

Posted by Meleagar Friday January 8 2010 at 10:56AM
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If you google "offline progression", you'll find three games mentioned: Earthrise, Eve, and Alganon and - revealingly enough -  my blog posts here. That's it.

Seriously?

If it was not so sadly revealing about the current state of the MMOG industry, it would be funny. Here is a gaming genre primarily based on monthly subscription, where you pay for 24./7 access, and yet out of dozens of pay-to-play games, only two current games offer any form of offline progression whatsoever?

Really?

It seems to me to be so fundamentally obvious that if you can provide a 24/7 benefit for a customer's monthly subscription fee, you should give them something, if nothing other than some kind of ongoing "thank you for staying subscribed even if you can't play much."   A functioning, meaningful reason to keep subscribing even if one's ability to stay online diminishes over time, or even if one wishes to try out another game.

Is that not obvious to everyone? I mean, is it just me or what? How can one explain that the entire genre basically ignores what would be an easily-coded and included major draw and selling point for casual and time-starved players?  Heck, you could get players to subscribe to several games concurrently if those games had significant off-line progression.

It's really mind-boggling that this obvious feature has been so ignored by the industry.